Unclear on the ‘Reality’ Concept
Tim Russert: If this scenario plays out and the Americans get out in total and Al-Qaeda resurges and Iraq goes to hell, do you hold the right, in your mind as American president, to re-invade, to go back into Iraq to stabilize it?
Hillary Clinton: You know, Tim, you ask a lot of hypotheticals. And I believe that what’s—
Russert: But this is reality.
—MSNBC Democratic debate (2/16/08)
The Big Surprise Is No Surprise
The big surprise on Super Tuesday, according to corporate media, was Mike Huckabee’s strong showing in Southern states. As the New York Times (2/6/08) reported on the Wednesday morning after, “Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, revived his candidacy with victories across the South.” Actually, though, Huckabee did about as well as one would have predicted (Media Views, 1/31/08); he was running close to Mitt Romney in national polls, and he had come in a close second to John McCain in South Carolina just 10 days before Super Tuesday. But campaign reporters had essentially written Huckabee out of the story, treating him with disdain when they deigned to mention him: The Washington Post (2/4/08) described him as “desperate to stay relevant in this contest.” Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC (2/8/08) accused Huckabee of stealing votes from Mitt Romney, and asked, “Why is he still running?” A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (1/28/08-2/3/08) found that in the week before Super Tuesday, McCain got 18 times as much coverage as Huckabee, while Romney got 10 times as much. Even Rudolph Giuliani dropping out of the race got seven times more coverage than Huckabee. In just 2 percent of all campaign stories, Huckabee almost didn’t exist as far as corporate media were concerned—no wonder they were surprised to find him winning five states and more delegates than Romney.
A New York Times Reminder
The New York Times’ Eleanor Randolph (2/26/08), mocking consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s decision to run for president again, wrote that Nader “argues that his voice is crucial to combat corporate greed, Pentagon waste and unworkable healthcare plans. (Remind us. Which candidate is for corporate greed? Pentagon waste? Bad healthcare?)” Well, John McCain’s main healthcare proposal is to change tax policy to discourage employers from providing it; Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s private insurance-based health proposals have also been criticized for failing to control costs or provide universal coverage. All three candidates endorse increasing the military budget—already over $600 billion—which would suggest that cutting Pentagon waste isn’t a high priority. As for combating corporate greed, McCain’s most conspicuous proposal so far in this regard has been to call for a corporate tax cut.
The New York Times (1/28/08) claimed in a front-page story that George W. Bush “has spent years presiding over an economic climate of growth that would be the envy of most presidents.” Reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg continued, “Yet much to the consternation of his political advisers, he has had trouble getting credit for it, in large part because Americans were consumed by the war in Iraq.” In reality, few modern presidents would want to exchange their record of economic growth for George W. Bush’s—even before the current economic slowdown. Gross domestic product (GDP), the standard measure of economic growth, increased at an annual average rate of 2.6 percent from 2001 through 2006—the latest year available. This ranks the George W. Bush administration sixth out of seven administrations since 1960 in terms of economic growth (counting the Kennedy/Johnson and Nixon/Ford years as one administration each). Only the administration of Bush’s father had slower annual growth. The fact that growth has been comparatively slow under the George W. Bush administration is a basic economic fact that any journalist covering politics ought to know, yet the New York Times’ White House correspondent seems to be unaware of it.
I Heart Wal-Mart
On February 3, the New York Times’ Michael Barbaro sent an early Valentine to Wal-Mart, depicting the giant retail corporation as “bursting through political logjams and offering big-picture solutions to intractable problems.” Like other Times pieces (e.g., 11/13/07; FAIR Action Alert, 8/18/06), the article treated Wal-Mart’s labor and environmental problems as things of the past—as the corporation transformed “from a laggard to a leader on issues like healthcare and the environment”—though they did lead to what Barbaro called “epiphanies” that “encouraged Wal-Mart to think bigger. If the company was such an effective problem solver—more effective, at times, than the federal government—why not tackle the big issues of the day?” There is serious reporting to be done on the privatization of state functions. But such reporting wouldn’t provide just a single paragraph for criticism, followed up by the reporter’s rejoinder, “Still, it’s hard to argue with results.” Nor would it uncritically quote a Wal-Mart VP who “explained that 90 percent of Americans shop at Wal-Mart and that, among them, Wal-Mart’s ‘favorability ratings’ are 91 percent.” A little checking turned up a Pew poll (12/15/05) that found the store actually had a 31 percent unfavorable rating—which makes a little more sense, given that universally beloved companies don’t generally need to undertake strenuous PR efforts.